Freedom of Conscience
Why Baylor has succeeded in its historic mission
By Jeff Kilgore, BAA executive vice president and CEO
May 1920, Baylor alumnus and legendary Texas pastor George W. Truett
delivered a sermon to a crowd of fifteen thousand on the east steps of
the Capitol in Washington, D.C. “It is the consistent and insistent
contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion
must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the
prerogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel
men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship. God wants
free worshippers and no other kind,” he proclaimed.
The freedom of conscience Truett eloquently described is a value the
Baylor Alumni Association (BAA) has long commended in the life of
Baylor for two reasons. First, because freedom of conscience was one of
the founding principles upon which Baylor was built as a Baptist
institution. Second, because an ongoing commitment to freedom of
conscience is the key to Baylor’s success.
As is well known, Baylor’s stated mission is to educate men and women
for worldwide leadership and service by integrating academic excellence
and Christian commitment within a caring community.
Upon these two pillars—academic excellence and Christian
commitment—rests the weight of Baylor’s daily life. But beneath them,
forming the platform upon which they stand and serving as the
university’s ultimate foundation, is freedom of conscience.
What exactly does freedom of conscience mean, in terms of how Baylor
lives out its mission? Several things immediately come to mind.
Freedom of conscience means true academic freedom, rather than the more
ideologically narrow culture that exists in some schools. It also means
religious liberty—the right of every person to freedom of thought and
worship according to the dictates of his or her own conscience. “Baylor
always ought to be the leader among Baptists as a bastion of academic
and religious freedom, and we need to do everything we can to
perpetuate that for future generations,” Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds,
Baylor’s president from 1981 to 1995, told the Line
in 2001. “We should never try to tie our mission down in such a way
that you or I can impose a measuring stick on one another and say, ‘You
may be a tremendously dedicated Christian, but you’re not measuring up
to our instrument of doctrinal accountability.’ That’s not good for
Baptists, and that’s not good for Baylor.”
Freedom of conscience also means the liberty to speak out concerning
controversial issues. In the U.S. Constitution, this takes the form of
freedom of speech. In a university, it takes the form of the
“marketplace of ideas,” operating on the premise that the best among a
wealth of freely expressed viewpoints will eventually win out by public
consensus without undue regulation. At a university, truth will be
recognized. Dissent and debate are to be welcomed.
The BAA believes that Baylor is at its strongest—as an institution of
higher education and in its witness as a Christian community—when it
serves as a bastion of traditional academic and religious freedom. And
the BAA resolutely points to freedom of conscience as being the
polestar of Baylor’s future success. Follow it, and Baylor will
continue to flourish.